Florida opened the season where it belonged: The Swamp. The pregame hype, even on television, was awesome. The players, the fans, the introduction video: This was home. It was also the beginning of something new, and hopefully something memorable. Right from the get-go, Gators fans knew things were going to be different.
Florida opened the 2015 season how it should, after all: With a dominant win, a 61-13 victory over an overmatched New Mexico State team in which the Gators' quarterback controversy was happily clouded by brilliant play.
The first quarter started with something we haven't seen since 2012: Confidence. McElwain not only won the toss, but elected to receive the ball, giving his offense the blessing to take control. Now, they didn't exactly do that, with a first series punt after registering one first down, but the point was still made. On the next drive, Treon Harris hooked up with Brandon Powell -- who happened to be in the slot as a receiver on this play -- for a 37 yard touchdown. A touchdown, according to webster dictionary, is: "a six-point score made by carrying or passing the ball into the end zone of the opposing side." It was a wonderful feeling.
The defense held strong for the first quarter, establishing pressure and countering New Mexico State's quick-strike strategy by running their nickel defense. Keanu Neal's absence at safety left Nick Washington, Brian Poole, and Marcell Harris to man the deep zones while Quincy Wilson took slot responsibilities. However, the highlight of the first half, on defense, was certainly prized recruit Cece Jefferson blowing his man off balance on his first play in a Gators uniform.
Treon Harris started the night (and the quarterback competition) by going 7-for-7 with 119 yards and a touchdown, looking for all the world like the rightful starter. And when Will Grier took over for his crack at the position early in the second quarter, he immediately threw his first pass well wide of a receiver.
But after that misfire, Grier settled down, going 2-for-3 with a touchdown on his first drive. And after a bad fumble that led to New Mexico State's first touchdown, Grier went 2-for-2 on his third drive, which included a great pass to Antonio Callaway capped off with a Grier QB keeper for a touchdown.
Oh, and in one of the night's most bizarre moments, A 38-YARD RUN BY GRIER SET IT ALL UP.
In the first half, the defense did a nice job of getting pressure, but that didn't result in enough quarterback sacks/knock downs. We saw Caleb Brantley or Jon Bullard push the pocket, but even when they got free, QB Tyler Rogers would escape time after time. Pressure was great to see (especially against a unit they were suppose to dominate), but Florida's front four has to start finishing those plays.
The defense took a second wound in the second quarter, as Marcell Harris (forced to play coverage because of the absence of Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal) got beat for a TD on the sideline on a deep ball. But the first half ended with more of the same from the offense: Another Grier passing touchdown capped a confident two-minute drive.
Halftime came with Florida up 34-13.
The second half featured much of what we saw in the first half, including more touchdowns by offensive units led by Grier and Treon Harris. Freshmen running backs Jordan Cronkrite (24 yards on five carries) and Jordan Scarlett (34 yards on eight carries) also found themselves some paydirt, each recording their first touchdowns as Gators in the second half.
In the second half, the defensive stars shined as Bullard recorded his first sack and Hargreaves III grabbed his first interception of the season. Even redshirt sophomore Jordan Sherit recorded his first sack of the year. Overall, it was good night for the Gators defense, which allowed just 13 points, all of which came in the first half. One was by confusion on an option play (which can be fixed), and the other was because a player (Marcell Harris) was playing in an odd position.
The final score of 61-13 (I told you they'd score more than 50!) was pleasing to see. Though the Eastern Michigan score last year was even more lopsided, I expect this score to net greater results in terms of future matchups.
My main takeaways from the game are as follows:
Both Grier and Harris controlled their time under center, and McElwain ended the game by saying the QB competition is far from over, stating, "We got two good ones." But Grier seemed like the preferred passer, and for obvious reasons. Grier was confident and poised in the pocket, taking his chances down the field and showing off his arm talent each drive he was out there.
From my perspective, Harris was far more tentative in the early stages of the game, something I wouldn't be too excited to see from a starting quarterback. I personally think Grier did himself a lot of good, despite losing a fumble that cost his defense a touchdown. Grier has my vote as Florida's starting QB, but it's obviously still a competition — and this might be a wild ride if Harris stays on track.
- To recap the defense, I'll say this: It's not 2012. Florida is not going to shut out its opponents and stifle high-powered offenses like we saw with Will Muschamp — at least, not yet. But, that's not to be all gloom and doom. Hargreaves got his, Jalen Tabor's progress was relieving to see, and Brantley and Bullard looked dominant at their positions.
- I enjoyed watching the game; I hope you did, too.
- Going forward, look for McElwain to use tight ends as often as he can.
- Expect a running back by committee.
Those are my two cents; now it's time to hear yours. What impressed you? What are you looking for from here on out? And what are your overall thoughts on game one of the McElwain era?